Duke Bourbon: The Whiskey John Wayne Would Have Loved

The Hollywood legend's son, Ethan, co-created this bourbon to honor his father’s legacy.

Christopher Osburnby Christopher Osburn

johnandethanwayne

Ethan Wayne’s Childhood was filled with fun and adventure, but it never felt like growing up in Hollywood. The son of John Wayne, one of the most famous actors in movie history, didn’t even grow up in Los Angeles. “We grew up in a small beach town in Southern California and my dad’s movie sets, which were mainly western sets in rural towns in Mexico, New Mexico, Colorado etc., so it felt like growing up in the Wild West.” He loved how he grew up in what felt like one adventurous expedition after the next.

When he was seventeen, his father lost a battle with cancer. Unsure of what to do after his father’s death, Wayne found work as a stunt man. His first job was The Blues Brothers. This led to work on B.J. and the Bear and Knight Rider. “My stunt jobs let to guest starring on a few soap operas and eventually to recurring roles on TV.” Years later, when his brother passed away, his family asked him to step in to run the family businesses, John Wayne Enterprises and the John Wayne Cancer Foundation.

dukebourbon

Duke Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Several years ago, Wayne was introduced to distiller Chris Radomski by a mutual friend. “I developed a friendship with Ethan and soon introduced Ethan to my partner at Hundred Acre, Jayson Woodbridge. Jayson is one of the most gifted wine makers in the World and, a big fan of John Wayne,” says Radomski. Together, the trio founded Duke Spirits and Monument Valley Distillers.

Jayson and Chris were able to spend time with Ethan and learn about his Dad, the man, his dreams and life. When Ethan uncovered his Dad’s lost liquor collection, he asked the duo to join him in opening the vault. The contents forever changed their relationship. “We all bonded to try to reproduce a bourbon, a bourbon which John Wayne would have loved, drank a lot of, and, been proud to produce himself.”

Related: How to Properly Taste Bourbon

Wayne remembered his father saying, “I should build my own distillery and make my own great spirits.” He never forgot those words, they were a dream, but one not forgotten, at least not by his son. “His drink of choice was bourbon, tequila and whatever the occasion or his travels called for. But bourbon is what he brought with and always reached for first.” His father would say “if I’m going to have a drink, it had better be a good one.”

For Wayne, when he thinks of putting his dad’s name on a product he think of three attributes: Timeless, Authentic and Quality. “So that is the mentality behind making this bourbon.”

Classic Wayne

Bourbon “The Duke” Would Have Loved

“We had his liquor collection and some tasting notes, so this project was very specific because we knew what he drank, what he wanted to drink and what he eventually wanted to make himself,” says Wayne. “Now, my dad was a busy man, he was making two-to-three movies a year, had
seven kids, ex-wives etc., so he didn’t have the time to execute some of the projects he might have enjoyed.” Wayne is extremely happy to be able to finally bring his father’s passion to life.

When they were presented with the honor and opportunity to have access to the special collection of John Wayne and his notes, they realized that we had a fifty year-old formula to work with to reflect the quality and flavors from a time when all products, including bourbon, were made with a high degree of care, attention and quality.

John Wayne was the kind of guy who would answer the door, phone and all fan letters. “He liked to be accessible to the public and as inclusive as possible.” That also comes through in the Duke Bourbon. They created a delicious, quality Bourbon at a price that’s accessible to most people while over-delivering.

The style of Duke Bourbon was inspired by bottles from John Wayne’s personal whiskey collection, preserved for over fifty years and only recently discovered. “Meticulously blended to reflect The Duke’s preferred whiskey flavor profile from tasting notes left behind during the time he was planning his own distillery,” says Radomski.

bourbonbarrels

Distilled The Old-Fashioned Way

The bourbon is hand crafted in small batches and aged in new hand built heavily charred American Oak barrels. A selection of five to ten year old whiskeys are chosen barrel by barrel and blended by hand before the Duke Bourbon reaches the bottle, and ultimately, you. “What makes the Bourbon different is the fact that it was created from sixty-five years of life experience from a man that lived a very unique and extraordinary life,” says Wayne.

These bourbons were truly small batch and were crafted and blended barrel by barrel, the same philosophy we have always utilized with our wines. We have always been committed to crafting authentic and hand crafted products, a philosophy embodied by John Wayne and Duke Spirits. “We think it makes a big difference albeit not that efficient sometimes,” says Radomski.

Related: Chef Michael Symon’s Grilled Knob Creek Rib Eye

John Wayne was a man who demanded the best from everybody he worked with and also from the things he enjoyed. “He gave his best, had very little time to enjoy a private life and, wanted to make the most of his personal life.”

Wayne says that his father was never interested in over embellishing anything, what he said or what he wore. “He appreciated timeless, authentic quality.” His hope is that he would be proud that their Bourbon fits that criteria. “It’s the real deal. You just need to taste it.”

What Bourbon Should Be

John Wayne was a man who sipped a lot of bourbon. “What we created is what he preferred to drink,” says Wayne. “When he left to work on a picture, he would be gone for at least three months.” As a boy, Wayne carried cases of bourbon to the car for him to take on those trips. “I know what he liked. In those days if you liked something you had to bring it, because it may not be available in Durango, Mexico.”

roostercogburnwhiskey

John Wayne affected people emotionally, viscerally, and he became the symbol of what an American male should be. “He tried to lift us up to be better, he would raise the bar for young men and give us behaviors and qualities to consider and aspire to be as American people – be strong yet kind, have dignity and respect for others,” says Wayne.

That’s what they’ve tried to bring to life with the Duke Bourbon. “In a time of hype, marketing, research, data, demographics and spreadsheets, we created the Duke based on the principles and ideals of my father’s.” They believe consumers don’t need any of the flashy embellishments, flavors or trends. They worked hard to create a quality and timeless American Bourbon. “My father always said ‘Don’t be afraid to work, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty because you’ll feel better if you earned it.’ And with the Duke Bourbon, we earned it.”